All eyes on Jean

Jean de Villiers’s form and fitness will be under scrutiny when he makes his long-awaited return to Test rugby in Durban this Saturday. JON CARDINELLI reports.

The Wallabies will host the All Blacks in the Rugby Championship decider in Sydney this Saturday. Australia currently top the log by virtue of their superior points difference. While they will be pushing for a rare win against their foes from across the Tasman, a draw would be enough to clinch the southern hemisphere’s most coveted trophy.

The All Blacks won't be wanting for motivation. Another win would result in a fourth consecutive Rugby Championship title. It would take their tally to 19 wins in 21 Rugby Championship matches (between 2012 and 2015). That would be some statement in the lead-up to the 2015 World Cup.

Over in South Africa, the focus will be on the performance rather than the result. Now that the Springboks and Argentina are no longer in the running for the Rugby Championship title, their focus will shift to the World Cup.

For the Boks, the spotlight will be on their captain, Jean de Villiers. The veteran centre spent seven months fighting his way back from a serious knee injury. He made his return to competitive rugby in the game between the Boks and World XV at Newlands on 11 July, and has since featured in two Currie Cup friendlies for Western Province.

Plans are still on track for De Villiers to face the Pumas in the next two Tests. Ultimately, it's hoped he will be back to his best, or in his own words, ‘In a position to make big contributions to the team cause’, by the time the World Cup commences this September.

De Villiers came off the bench to play 20 minutes in the match against the World XV. He played 60 minutes for WP against the Pumas, and then a full 80 against the EP Kings.

It would be unfair to venture an opinion on De Villiers’s form based on the performances in those three matches. In fact, De Villiers has achieved what he set out to do in the month of July, that is make his return to competitive rugby, and rack up as many as 160 minutes of game time.

The next two weeks will show us where De Villiers is in a Test rugby context. Argentina are a physical team, and usually demand the very best of the Boks at the point of contact.

Some may see the selection of De Villiers as a gamble given the leadership role he's set to play at the looming World Cup. But it's a gamble that needs to be taken. He hasn't played Test rugby this season, and these two matches represent a final chance to do so before the all-important tournament.

It will also present Bok coach Heyneke Meyer with a chance to mix the new with the old in midfield. De Villiers has played a lot of rugby alongside Damian de Allende at the Stormers, and started alongside De Allende in the two Tests against Argentina in 2014. At some stage, Meyer may also look to trial De Villiers at No 12 and Jesse Kriel at No 13.

Frans Steyn is also set to make his return from a chest injury at some stage over the next two weeks. The World Cup-winning centre was spotted at training in the lead-up to the Test against the All Blacks. While he was not available for that clash, he is still very much in Meyer’s World Cup plans.

Steyn last played Test rugby in September 2012.

Photo: Luke Walker/Gallo Images

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Jon Cardinelli